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Skinner scores go-ahead goal, Hurricanes cap 10-win January by beating Blues 3-1

Carolina Hurricanes' Jeff Skinner (53) and St. Louis Blues' Jordan Leopold (33) skate for possession of the puck as Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) keeps an eye on the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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Carolina Hurricanes' Jeff Skinner (53) and St. Louis Blues' Jordan Leopold (33) skate for possession of the puck as Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) keeps an eye on the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Jan. 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH, N.C. - The previous time the Carolina Hurricanes had a month like this, a rare playoff appearance soon followed.

The Hurricanes capped their first 10-win month since 2009 by beating the St. Louis Blues 3-1 on Friday night.

Jeff Skinner scored the go-ahead goal in the second period, Alexander Semin added an empty-netter with 1:04 left and Nathan Gerbe scored on an early power play.

Opening a four-game homestand that precedes the Olympic break, Carolina earned its fifth win in six games while staying in the mix in the crowded Metropolitan Division.

"We want to have a good feeling going into the break and we want to sort of build off this win," Skinner said.

David Backes scored on the power play for St. Louis.

The Blues, who average 3.36 goals per game, missed a chance to pull even with Chicago atop the Central Division by losing just their fourth game against an Eastern Conference team.

"Hard to find a lot of good players in our game today," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They deserve a lot of credit. They skated. They checked. They played hard. And we looked like we had the body language like we wanted an easier game. Didn't get it."

Anton Khudobin stopped 26 shots for the Hurricanes.

Jaroslav Halak made 28 saves in his fourth straight start, but had his four-game winning streak snapped.

Khudobin stopped all 10 shots he faced in the third period, including a nifty leg save on Alex Pietrangelo with about 1 1/2 minutes left.

And, he got some help from the goal post after two Blues—Jaden Schwartz and Jay Bouwmeester—each rang it in the final 2 minutes.

"You need the post to be a goalie's best friend," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said.

Semin then tacked on his highlight-reel empty-net goal that capped the Hurricanes' best month in a while.

They went 10-4 in January, and their previous 10-win month in March 2009 led into their only playoff appearance since 2006, when they won their only Stanley Cup.

Skinner put Carolina up 2-1 off a draw 1:51 into the second. After Jordan Staal won a faceoff, the puck found Skinner's stick and he beat Halak with a wrist shot from the slot that clipped the goalie's glove for his seventh goal of the month.

"Didn't really mean to bank it off his glove and in," Skinner said. "You just try and get it to the net sometimes."

That turned out to be enough support for Khudobin, who earned the decision in every game this month for Carolina.

He helped the Hurricanes leapfrog idle Columbus and Philadelphia in the division standings, with 59 points. When the night started, only 11 points separated second place from the cellar in the Metropolitan.

The Hurricanes never trailed on Friday, taking advantage of some sloppy play early by the Blues—who were whistled for three penalties in the opening 11:25. Carolina went up 1-0 when Gerbe one-timed a slick cross-ice pass from Andrej Sekera 3:46 in.

"The puck had moved, and there was an opening there and he found a soft area," Sekera said. "He was wide open, so I just tried to get it to him, and he did a pretty good job."

The Blues, who have the league's second-best power-play unit, tied it at 9:23 when Backes beat Khudobin high for his 150th career goal with St. Louis but just his second since Dec. 14.

"It's nice to be back on the scoreboard but we're more interested in winning," Backes said. "Tonight was a game where they brought a hard-skating, tough-checking game, and we didn't have a ton of answers for it."

NOTES: St. Louis finished the month 9-5-0. ... The Blues entered with 37 points on the road, the second-best total in the league, but have not won in Raleigh since 2009. ... Carolina G Cam Ward, out all of January with an unspecified lower-body injury, made a conditioning start Friday night with Charlotte of the AHL.

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Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

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